Share:

Matt Tenney, Contributor

High levels of engagement in an organization can result in reduced turnover, increased retention, improved performance and productivity, better customer service, and a healthier bottom line. 

In addition to these organizational benefits, there are certain common behaviors leaders see in engaged employees that contribute to a positive work environment for all employees.

In fact, engagement can be contagious and create a “trickle down effect” that can be seen throughout the entire organization because it helps engage other team members. This is because engaged employees bring an enthusiasm to their work every day that is expressed through their actions, attitudes, and common behaviors.

The common behaviors of engaged employees include performing well, taking accountability, forging trust-based, collaborative relationships with co-workers, improving processes, developing their skills, giving and receiving feedback positively, being proactive in overcoming obstacles, and going the extra mile. 

These behaviors indicate a strong emotional commitment to the organization’s mission and alignment with the organization’s culture and core values.

In this article, we will explore the components of engagement, how it impacts organizations, and delve into some of the common behaviors of engaged employees and how these behaviors can reinforce organizational values and engage other team members. 

The Components of Engagement

The concept of employee engagement is typically credited to psychologist William Kahn. In 1990, Kahn wrote a paper called “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement” that outlined three dimensions of employee engagement: cognitive, emotional, and physical. 

The paper delved into Kahn’s research to test the hypothesis that the varying levels of themselves employees physically, cognitively, and emotionally bring to their jobs influences their experiences of work and their performance.

When employees are cognitively engaged, they are highly committed to their job. When they’re physically engaged, they are highly invested in their work. When they are emotionally engaged, they have a strong emotional connection to their work.

Employee engagement can be measured by the extent to which employees feel passionate about their work and how committed they are emotionally to the organization and its mission. 

An employee’s level of engagement is tied to how the employee feels about their work experience, how they are treated in the organization, whether or not they feel a sense of purpose in the work they do, and whether or not they feel that the organization is dedicated to an authentic vision. 

Meaningful work, opportunities for professional development, autonomy, an inclusive work environment, regular recognition of contributions, healthy feedback between leadership and employees, and trust-based working relationships all drive employee engagement. 

Employees also seek job clarity and a work/life balance, the latter of which is becoming increasingly important to job seekers and necessary for engagement. 

Leadership plays a pivotal role in engagement because leaders shape an organization’s culture—another factor that can significantly affect engagement. A leader’s ability to foster a culture that values employees and build authentic relationships with all team members will determine how engaged an organization’s employees are.

Levels of Engagement

There are three levels of engagement: engaged, not engaged, and disengaged. An employee will fit into one of three categories of engagement depending on their level of commitment to their job: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged.

Engaged

Due to their emotional commitment, engaged employees feel a sense of purpose, find meaning in the work they do, and care about their work, their co-workers, and the organization. 

Engaged employees do not just show up for the paycheck or a shot at a promotion—they truly care about the organization’s mission, vision, and values. They are invested in the future of the company and recognize that they play an important role and that the work they do is essential to its success.

Engaged employees feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback and interacting with leadership. They also experience strong social relationships with their coworkers.

Indicators of high engagement in a workplace include less absenteeism, higher retention rates, increased productivity as the result of high performance, improved customer service, resulting in more client satisfaction and client retention, and better overall profitability for the organization.

Not Engaged

Not engaged (or unengaged) employees show up but work with little commitment or enthusiasm. They do what they are asked, but they rarely go above and beyond because they are not fully invested in the organization’s success or necessarily on board with its mission.

Employees who are not engaged will do their work but are disinterested in it. They may miss deadlines, communicate poorly (and rarely) with management and co-workers, don’t take ownership, and don’t demonstrate accountability. They may not participate when they are tasked with working on collaborative projects. 

Employees who are not engaged could have been engaged at one time but aren’t any longer. This lack of engagement can be due to changes in their work environment that they take issue with or because of issues in their personal lives that have affected their level of enthusiasm for their job. 

Most workers fall into the not engaged category.

Actively Disengaged

A disengaged employee looks just like their engaged co-workers on the surface, but, unlike engaged employees, they bring neither passion nor commitment to their jobs. They often exhibit toxic behaviors, underperform, and lack a strong belief in or enthusiasm for the organization’s mission, vision, or values. 

These employees are not interested in problem-solving, process improvement, collaboration, or innovation. They may be averse to change and express frustration when they are asked to do certain tasks or learn new processes.

Because disengaged employees lack the commitment and enthusiasm of their engaged peers, these employees are typically unhappy in their roles, have no job satisfaction, aren’t great at collaboration, and can spread negativity within the organization, creating toxic, or even hostile, work environments. 

They can also end up costing companies a lot of money. It is estimated that the total cost of disengaged employees in the U.S. is $450-500 billion annually. This makes disengagement a serious threat to the success of organizations.

Why Engagement Is So Important

The success of any organization depends on how invested employees are in the work they do.

A high level of employee engagement is essential for an organization’s long-term financial stability, but it can also lead to a variety of other positive outcomes that can benefit not just the organization but employees as well.

Employee engagement can affect performance, productivity, profits, and is key for business sustainability. Engagement levels can determine how well employees are able to serve customers, and it plays an important role in recruiting and retaining top talent.

The benefits of employee engagement that organizations experience include improved retention, performance, and customer service, all of which boost profitability. Engaged employees believe in the work they are doing, which improves their overall job performance. 

Because engaged employees see themselves as valued members of the organization, the time they spend at work will be more impactful. Their emotional investment in the organization will help them perform well and make the jobs they do more fulfilling.

Engagement also has a significant impact on employee well-being and job satisfaction.

Engaged employees are able to connect the dots between their individual performance and the success of the company, making them more aware of how their performance directly impacts the performance of the organization as a whole.

Behaviors of Engaged Employees

Engaged employees will often exhibit these common behaviors:

Performing at Their Best

One of the hallmarks of an engaged team is high performance. Employees who are engaged typically perform well and produce quality work.

High-performance teams are made up of highly engaged employees who believe in the organization’s mission, believe the work they do is making an impact, and feel instrumental in the organization’s success. 

Engaged employees feel that their voices are heard and that their contributions are valued. Reports indicate that employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

Taking Accountability

Engaged employees will clearly understand their tasks, responsibilities, and goals and will hold themselves accountable for achieving them. This can tie into purpose, trust, and autonomy. 

Engaged employees know the work they do has a direct impact on the success of the organization and will work hard to achieve the desired results. They are more focused on the quality and success of the end result and less concerned with the time spent on the project, though this can be very important depending on the task.

In organizations that embrace and learn from mistakes, rather than focusing on punishing employees for making them, you will see higher levels of engagement and more accountability in employees. 

Engaging in Collaboration

Collaboration can boost engagement. It is also one of the many benefits of having a high level of engagement within an organization. 

Engaged employees develop strong relationships with their co-workers. These relationships are crucial to successful collaboration efforts. When employees enjoy working with their co-workers, they truly function as a team and can accomplish much more when they work together. 

Always Seeking Process Improvements

Engaged employees will have clarity on their roles and always strive to perform their duties in a better or more efficient manner. They will often streamline tasks to improve their productivity or suggest improvements in current procedures and processes.

This can result in improved productivity, better use of resources, and increased profitability. Another bonus is that innovation often occurs as a result of this mindset. There is even evidence that engaged employees excel at customer-focused innovation. 

Learning and Developing New Skills

As I mentioned, engaged employees always strive to do their best work. Whether it’s getting better at their current role or aiming for a promotion, engaged employees will want to improve the skills they will need to do this. 

This is why engaged employees often take advantage of the learning and development opportunities an organization provides. They will be more willing to learn new processes and technologies to help the organization reach its goals.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

Feedback is crucial for engagement, but it can also be a sign of a high level of engagement. This is because engaged employees view constructive feedback as important to development in their role and their overall performance. 

Engaged employees often provide feedback that is extremely useful to management. They make suggestions that improve processes, increase productivity, spark innovation, and save the company money.

One of the ways feedback boosts engagement is that it builds trust between leadership and employees, creating a safe, trust-based environment where employees feel that their opinions are valued and help drive decision-making.

Taking a Proactive Approach

When employees feel that their feedback has an impact on decision-making, they will take a proactive approach to their jobs. This may mean anticipating issues before they crop up or reacting in a timely manner to issues requiring immediate action.

Autonomy can play a role in this. Autonomy is also a driver of engagement, and it can help employees be more proactive. When you trust employees and give them the autonomy they need to make the decisions about the work they do, they feel comfortable taking ownership of duties.

Engaged employees often take the initiative to personally change their own work environment. This proactive behavior is referred to as “job crafting”—this is when employees make changes to their jobs to make them more engaging and meaningful

Some employees are motivated by work that is not only meaningful but also challenging. This helps employees perform better and can improve their overall well-being, which helps maintain engagement.

Going the Extra Mile

Engaged employees often go above and beyond their daily tasks to accomplish things. Whether it’s meeting a tight deadline on a project or going out of their way to accommodate a customer, engaged employees are willing to do that bit of extra that helps organizations accomplish short- and long-term goals. 

However, this is an area that can have some drawbacks if management isn’t mindful.

Some organizations end up creating a situation where going the extra mile becomes the norm but also a necessity. If employees are constantly having to go above and beyond just to keep their head above water, then it can very quickly lead to burnout and disengagement. 

Toxic productivity can also result in a situation where employees work too much at the expense of their mental and physical well-being and may harm their performance. The need to constantly do or produce things can turn toxic and can be unproductive ultimately.

Unfortunately, employee engagement has taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and is still suffering.

Recent research indicates that the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. declined in 2021—for the first year in more than a decade. This unfortunate trend continued into the early part of 2022, with only 32% of full- and part-time employees engaged and 17% actively disengaged, an increase of one percentage point from the previous year.

These statistics are discouraging, and they are a very clear indication that we have a lot of work to do to improve engagement. Fortunately, we can look to our engaged employees to guide us in forging strategies that will resonate with employees and make them more engaged in their work.


Matt Tenney is the founder of PeopleThriver and The Generous Group, two companies that aspire to create the best workplace cultures in the world.  Matt is also the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence.  Matt is frequently invited to present keynote speeches at leadership conferences and meetings.  His TEDx Talk has been viewed over 1,000,000 times since January, 2020.